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Last Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005, 07:02 GMT 08:02 UK
Park life from monks to Trekkies
By Marie Jackson
BBC News, London

Fans support Queen at Hyde Park
Is Hyde Park London's new 140-hectare playground?
It first passed from abbey monks to Henry VIII to hunt in, and was a hot-bed for prostitution and free love in the 1960s.

Forty years or so later, it fixed the world's gaze when Pink Floyd reunited and Bob Geldof told 150,000 people to make poverty history.

Hyde Park has become more than just a park, it would seem.

Its profile has been raised in recent years to something approaching iconic status after a run of high-profile gigs, services, exhibitions and protests.

Wet and slippery

Among the debateable highlights was a 20m Star Trek exhibition in 2002 hailed as the biggest event of its kind in Hyde Park since 1851 when the Great Exhibition ran for six months before moving to Crystal Palace in south London.

Sir Elton John
"The thought behind it was fantastic but Hyde Park is a charisma-free zone
Elton John

A year later, one million joined a rally against the Iraq War, considered one of the biggest public protests in the UK.

That was followed in the summer of 2004 with the creation of the slippery Diana Memorial Fountain, a tribute to the late Princess of Wales, and the will-it-won't-it-reopen saga that ran for months.

And now the Mayor of London is making inroads in moving some of Notting Hill Carnival to the park by hosting a complementary carnival event there on Monday called Caribbean Showcase.

In addition, it has been the stage for a host of musicians and artists from Simon and Garfunkel and Queen, to Shania Twain and Italian tenor Pavarotti.

The 140-hectare landscaped park is meant to hold 93,000, a usual turnout for Party in the Park, although Live 8 attracted an unprecedented 150,000.

'Herded like cattle'

This makes the park central London's largest venue but how does it all sound to fans at the back of 93,000 people?

Paul Tanner, 30, who saw the Red Hot Chilli Peppers play at Hyde Park, said: "It feels like you are three miles from the band.

"You have to queue up for everything and feel like cattle. I prefer smaller venues like the Jazz Cafe or Brixton Academy which feel more intimate."

BMX stunt rider performs at Activ8 in Hyde Park
Events are expected to promote London and its cultural diversity
Speaking after Live 8, Elton John said: "The thought behind it was fantastic but Hyde Park is a charisma-free zone."

Live 8 event organiser Harvey Goldsmith told BBC News his comment was not entirely fair.

"Elton told me that he had a great time," he said.

"He was there for such a short time that it would be difficult to make such a comment. If anything it was quite the reverse."

Mr Goldsmith said a clear advantage to holding an event in Hyde Park was the central location but added that park events are expensive to operate.

Prices can vary from as little as 100 for a sponsored walk for 100 people to 1m for a series of five rock concerts.

Short memory

So how did the park come to be London's latest playground?

According to a spokeswoman for the Royal Parks Agency, its growing profile has been more by default than deliberate.

But Steve Edwards, park manager for seven years, said the general public has a short memory.

"Hyde Park has always been a well-used venue.

"We hold a couple of hundred events each year and have been holding Party in the Park since 1996."

People are much more tolerant of state events like the Jubilee and Millennium but not so forgiving when rock concerts make their windows rattle
Steve Edwards, park manager

He said the most important part of holding events was to ensure a balance between keeping both the crowd and the park's neighbours happy.

"A lot of people who live locally don't necessarily think we have always found that balance," he said.

"There are years when a lot of events happen. People are much more tolerant of state events like the Jubilee and Millennium but not so forgiving when rock concerts make their windows rattle, but generally we do not get that many complaints."

Out of the spotlight?

Can the park's popularity last or will the transformed Millennium Dome and a completed Wembley Stadium reposition the spotlight?

In summer 2007 the Millennium Dome reopens as a concert venue with a 23,000-capacity indoor arena aiming to host up to 150 music, entertainment and sports events in its first year.

But Mr Edwards does not see it as a threat, because its capacity is so much lower than the park's and it is outside central London without all the transport links.

Wembley, however, is perceived as having a better atmosphere than the park and will have capacity for 85,000, he said.

"A lot of organisers will take outside concerts to Wembley so there may be a small drop off.

"But we will still be there as a popular location."

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